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Kansas City's kite guy

A retired schoolteacher does what he can to promote kite-flying

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With a snap of the wrist, a tug of a string, and a wealth of instinct, David Ellis adeptly guides his homemade kite through twists, twirls, plunges, and power lines in an awe-inspiring display of skill. Despite all that talent, it's not the thrill of battle that keeps this longtime member of the Kansas City Kite Club turning out week after week.

"I'm not a competitor; it puts me under stress trying to beat someone else, and that makes me uncomfortable," says Ellis. "Plus, when you put so much time into building a kite, it's not fun to see them destroyed."

Ellis and the 50 or so other members of the Kite Club perform their aerial acrobatics on the campus of Johnson County Community College the second Sunday of each month or at the New Mark School near Liberty on the fourth Sunday of each month.

Performing on one of the busiest intersections (College Boulevard and Quivira) in Overland Park gives the club a little added attention. "People come up and say, 'We were driving by and saw these and wanted to see what was going on.' We also get people coming over from the college. If somebody shows up out here and looks interested, pretty soon they've got a kite line in their hand," says Ellis. "We just come out for a good time. There's not much competition among the group, although sometimes there's some spontaneous sparring."

Even if your kite-flying skills are lacking, Ellis knows a thing or two about showing people the ropes. He spent more than 30 years teaching elementary school in the Shawnee Mission South School District before retiring four years ago. He still devotes much of his time to education. He teaches computer classes to the young as well as the elderly, and he spends the winter months teaching the art of his real passion -- kite-making.

"I've been teaching for a long time, and I can take the concept and present it to where people can understand it," says Ellis. "I like to come up with something unusual, stuff you don't see every day." That includes a wide array of unique styles and designs in his private kite stash.

"A kite concept takes me about a year to develop. I do a lot of thinking and researching, then I'll put it down on paper. From there I do a lot of mind building on how to put it together. Then finally I get out the knife and start cutting, and that goes pretty fast, about six hours."

While he doesn't actively look to sell the kites, occasionally someone will see a creation of his and must have it. "I sell them more or less like an artist sells a work. I don't do it for making money; I do it because I like to do it."

Ellis also takes pleasure in the simple joy of showing off what he's made and getting together with people who share the same interests. "It's just a social thing for most of us. There's a bunch of people who pull up their lawn chairs and chat with people they haven't seen for a week or two and watch the kites."

Not everyone in the club shares Ellis' relaxed outlook. Several members make regular weekend road trips in search of battle. "People like the competitive nature as well," says Ellis. But before the days of the Kansas City Kite Club, it was difficult to compete on a national level, because the only place to play against others was in places such as Tulsa and St. Louis. "(The competitive group) started putting on shows here just so they'd have a chance to get points and advance to nationals."

One of the biggest events of the year for the Kite Club is the Prairie Winds Kite Festival, held annually at the Agriculture Hall of Fame in Bonner Springs. This year's event, which took place May 19 through 21, was noncompetitive. Kite demonstrations and activities took place. "We're trying to involve the public as much as we can," Ellis says. The objective of one of the festival games this year was to "push a ball across a field with a kite, where you have to have lots of control, and there's also spot-landing games."

Ellis says there is a common misconception about kite flying that can be costly in the long run. "A lot of people think, 'Hey, it's really windy today, let's go fly a kite,' but that's not true. Strong wind can tear up a kite and make it impossible to control."

Ellis has developed a kite Web site (www.sound.net/~kiteguy/kckc.htm) and even hands out business cards calling himself the "Kite Guy." He says he gets quite a few hits on that site and that it's helping get the word out about the KC Kite Club. Club members also spread the word about the leisure activity, including holding regular talks with elementary school students and ongoing workshops.

The kites take to the heavens on the second and fourth Sunday of each month, year-round, unless rain or snow is falling from the sky.

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